NWC Carillon Tower project sparks debate

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A Northwest College landmark was the subject of spirited conversation at Monday’s monthly meeting of the Board of Trustees, as board members discussed whether to spend $280,000 repairing the carillon at the center of campus.

Trustees reviewed and approved a list of 11 major maintenance projects in February, and that list was then submitted to the State Construction Department. The list and the requested funding was approved by the state and the board was then required to give a vote of final approval on Monday.

As board members worked through the list of projects, trustees Bob Newsome and Dustin Spomer questioned the need for spending such a large sum on the carillon, given that it serves no functional purpose for the college.

“... In the current economic state of Wyoming and the college, it seems like an awful lot of money to be putting into something that really doesn’t enhance students,” Newsome told the board.

In response to Newsome’s concerns, NWC President Stefani Hicswa said many on campus would disagree about the tower’s function.

“Some people would say just the opposite,” Hicswa said. “They would say it is something that’s important; having that tower makes this place the environment that it is.”

Spomer said he shared Newsome’s concerns, asking Hicswa what exactly the tower does that makes it viable to the campus.

“It plays music on the hour, it’s like a clock tower,” Hicswa said. “And it’s starting to get old, it’s starting to crumble. But what it does is it’s part of the atmosphere of campus. It’s almost like art or a statue ... It gives the campus a very collegiate feel.”

Hicswa noted that the carillon features prominently in the NWC logo, as well as the NWC Foundation logo and the Powell Visitor Center logo.

“It’s featured in many photographs of campus. It’s that visual focal point,” Hicswa said. “When you look at all the other campuses and ask what is the campus, [for NWC] it’s the carillon.”

Trustee Carolyn Danko called the tower “a landmark,” as well as a gathering place for students. Vice President for Administrative Services and Finance Lisa Watson explained the state has already signed off on using those funds for the project. Facilities director David Plute noted the state also approved $60,000 for a study to identify engineering deficiencies on the tower; NWC is in the process of completing that assessment.

“If we don’t repair it, we will lose it,” Plute said. “We’d have to tear the carillon down, and it won’t be replaced.”

Hicswa asked Plute if the erosion of the tower was a safety concern; Plute said it was.

“Our major priority for anything we do out of the physical plant is safety,” Plute said. “If it impacts the safety of our students, staff or the public, it pushes that project to our number one priority ... That’s why this project is where it is, because of cracks in the masonry and foundation problems, some of which go back to the original design.”

“Right now, it’s safe, but if we don’t act on it, it’s sort of a Cody Hall in the making,” Plute added, referring to water damage that has at least temporarily closed that residence hall.

Spomer, a civil engineer, said he understood how the college came up with the dollar amount, but still had questions about the need for such an overhaul.

“What we’re really talking about is $340,000 for this tower,” he said. “Couldn’t we construct a new tower for $340,000?”

Plute said when construction is said and done, that might be exactly what the college has.

“If you go back to the Engineering Associates report, we’re going to be looking at the foundations and developing the drawings,” Plute said. “It could be less than that $280,000 because we don’t have construction drawings and engineering done yet, but based on that engineering study, this could be the top set figure if we had to replace the tower — basically putting a new foundation in, building it again from the bottom to the top, putting the carillon electronics back in. It’s not an inexpensive project.”

The question, according to Plute, is how iconic is the tower as it relates to the campus?

“It’s been part of the master plan in terms of the focus of that entire courtyard,” Plute said. “It’s one of those things that has to be thought through.”

The carillon was a project undertaken in 1987 by SinClair Orendorff, NWC’s longest-tenured chief administrator, as a tribute to families upon his retirement, according to NWC Foundation executive director Shelby Wetzel. A total of $25,000 in private donations was raised to construct the carillon, according to materials from that time.

“It was a fundraising project,” Wetzel told the board. “They did seek donations to put together and create, because he [Orendorff] wanted to have that sense of an iconic symbol on the campus ... as kind of a parting gift. He kind of put this campaign together to build this tower.”

Danko made the most impassioned argument for the tower’s continued existence.

“I would look at the carillon as an identifier for our campus,” she said. “It is the one thing on this campus that sets us apart from all the others. It’s on our logo, it’s what we stand for. It really enhances the college.”

Danko then made a motion for the board to accept the 11 items on the major maintenance project list, with a second by trustee Mark Wurzel. Before it could go to a vote, Spomer asked that the tower project be removed so it could be discussed further. As per parliamentary procedure, an amendment to the original motion was needed, and Danko declined to amend her motion.

“Sometimes I think because it’s a visual thing, people think it has no value,” Danko said of the tower. “But to an awful lot of people, that is the lynchpin that connects them to this campus ... This is the home piece for this college. It sits smack dab in the middle of it. It rings out, it makes a beautiful sound. It’s where kids say, ‘Will you marry me?’ or ‘Will you go out with me Saturday night?’ It is an identifier.”

With the amendment refused, the board accepted the list of major maintenance projects by a 5-2 vote, with Spomer and Newsome casting the dissenting votes.

Northwest College trustees approved $1.83 million worth of major maintenance projects during their Monday meeting.

In addition to approving repairs to the campus’ carillon tower, trustees gave the final OK to 10 other projects.

The priciest item on the list was a second phase of improvements to the Johnson Fitness Center. College officials are making improvements that include upgrades to a hot water heating system, fire suppression equipment, air conditioning units, the locker room showers and floors. That project is estimated to cost $450,000.

Northwest also plans to replace and upgrade some of the campus’ electrical infrastructure and service at an estimated cost of $400,000 and assess and repair part of its landscaping irrigation system for around $200,000.

A comprehensive security improvements plan, meanwhile, is expected to cost about $50,000.

Other projects on the major maintenance list include upgrades to heating and cooling equipment around various NWC facilities. For example, the college will replace four heat pumps at the Science & Mathematics Building for around $120,000.

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